Life of Sorrow

Frieda Kahlo, in a letter to her husband Diego Rivera, testified that he was “by far the worse” of the two disasters that defined her life. The first, remarkably, was the perforation of her uterus in a bus accident at age 18.

Of all the insensitivity of men, Diego epitomized the worst of it. Not only was he extravagantly unfaithful to Frieda, but he failed to appreciate the huge investment of self she made in him. Frieda, in many of her self-portraits, put a bust of Diego on her forehead. The day after her death, a friend observed that he appeared to age ten years, and finally testified that “I never knew how much I loved her.” No, lummox! You never understood the power of her devotion to you!

Diego did care for Frieda, supporting the drain on his finances of more than thirty surgeries related to her accident and spinal bifida. But he eventually divorced her, and this pressed Frieda into depression. Self-portraits of the period show her attempting to reclaim the European mantle carried by her father, where for years she had dressed the part of the Mexican peasant. A few weeks before her death, she penned the line

I hope the end is easy, and I hope never to return.

This strikes deep into my heart. In Golem, I write of a cosmic convocation of masculine minds that lost their women to sorrow. Their ladies take haven in a place that masculine minds cannot penetrate, the super-massive black hole in the center of our galaxy, leaving men without their primary inspiration in the struggle for justice. We need women like Frieda, and any testimony of their abandonment of us is, frankly, terrifying.

I learned the details about Frieda at a seminar presented by Dr. Gloria Arjona. Dr. Arjona is also a singer, and these two passions combined in her investigation, as Spanish Lecturer at Cal Tech, of the fragments that Frieda inscribed on her self-portraits. Most penetrating of them are these words from a Mexican adaptation of Cielito Lindo:

Arbol de la esperanza mantente firme

Tree of hope, be strong

Dr. Arjona spoke of Frieda as representative of the universal human condition, which is the struggle against sorrow and pain. After her presentation, I stopped to take her hand and thank her for “representing Frieda so faithfully.” For Frieda does indeed represent that struggle so universal in Latin America, though foreign to the American middle class. The experience on Saturday was a link for me, as I learned this morning when humming the tune to the chorus of Cielito Lindo

Ay, ay, ay ay. Canta y no llores

“Sing, and do not cry.” It is an assertion of will emanating from those that have nothing but their voices, and even then only in moments of private celebration that are yet always touched by the pressure of sorrow. It is to claim the right to be loved, a claim that almost broke my heart as I began to weep.

I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.

Three / ten thousand places

I was carried away by Jessica’s contribution today. I was unaware of Hopkin’s poetry. While sharing some of the whimsy of Lewis Carroll’s verse, it stays safely familiar. I followed the links on Wikipedia to Poet’s Graves and was smitten by The May Magnificat.

Ten Thousand Places

I

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

I saw a great horned owl at the Arboretum last weekend. I bundled up and set out for a walk on the last day before the temperatures were forecast to settle below freezing, where they are now. I walked briskly over Peter’s Hill and to my favorite section, Conifer Path, where the color palette changes to ocean blue and dark green with subtle reds here and there, and the noise of the nearby street and of your own footsteps is softened by the layers of pine needles. I wish I had a better camera but I will try to describe to you how lovely it is there, in all seasons, but especially whatever the current…

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Golem

This post celebrates submission for production of my next book, Golem. Here’s the preface:

When in 2000 I resumed my journey into faith, I found myself wondering whether people had any sympathy at all for Jesus. It wasn’t enough that he had to suffer the pain of all the wrong-doing on our planet – no, he had to be responsible for everything, everywhere.

It has been painful for me to witness the success of escalatory monotheism in public debate. Even the atheists buy into it, blaming religion for all the magical thinking and selfishness that infects the world. The contradictory evidence of the natural world seems to escape their attention – predation has an enormously long pedigree. The anti-religious seem to have no sense of just how difficult it is to heal creatures that nature has programmed to hurt each other. Religion has no magical talisman to protect us from the prejudicial instincts of our neighbors – that requires us to relate to them.

Because life is so complex, every generation seeks solutions for the problems that are immediately obvious, often failing to realize that those problems are the cracks in the solutions to uglier problems addressed by their ancestors. The misguided impulse to sweep away rules and restrictions brings a satisfying sense of activity, but it also polarizes public debate. Both sides of the struggle advertise the proclamations of hysterics, impeding rational discussion and informed problem solving.

In this famous dictum, the Catholic philosopher George Santayana characterized the problem:

Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

In Three Philosophical Poets, Santayana marshaled his wisdom to illuminate the difficulties of living well. His source material, spanning two millennia, are the writings of Lucretius, Dante and Goethe. The first extolled the virtues of reason, but Santayana observes that complexity runs reason into the ground with “analysis paralysis.” Dante upheld faith in Divine Love in his allegory of universal redemption, but reliance upon forces beyond our control leads to passivity and dependence. Goethe celebrates the accomplishments of forceful will now trumpeted by the elitist libertarians of the Republican Party, but a failure to negotiate with our peers generates ever mounting resistance that eventually crushes the solitary man, and brings the pyramid of tyranny crashing down under its own weight.

My first work of fiction, Ma, celebrated the feminine virtues of intuition, anticipation and compassion as a means of escaping these traps. It chronicled the psychological struggles of men caught in the limitations of Santayana’s world-view, and their liberation through submission to the caring of their women. The parallel story of Leelay suggests the psychological experience of a woman learning to support such men.

The deus ex machina of Jesus’s appearance at the end of the book was jarring to me. I rationalized it at the time as an assertion that Christ is called into being by the harmonization of masculine and feminine virtues. But it suggested to me that there was still more to be said.

I was also aware that Ma left many unanswered questions. The strategy of its construction was actually to overwhelm reason, forcing the reader to focus on the psychological experiences of the characters. When readers complained that I left a lot of loose ends dangling, I found myself playing with ideas that would tie them together.

Thus was born Golem. As a firm believer that love is universally redemptive, the work expands upon the dysfunctionality of digital technology, still characterized here as a unique manifestation of Earth’s unstable ecology, and then imagines its applications in reconciling the divide between gods and mortals.

But at the heart of the writing is a plea for sympathy for our great religious figures. In the crushing grip of the enormously destructive forces that oppress humanity, to be a seed of light can be both humiliating and painful. Adherents to faith may seem foolish or misguided, but ultimately they serve to dissipate those contrary forces, allowing the pure light of love to be liberated for all to see.

Marriage

Ray Charles, reflecting on his wife’s experience of a career in which so much psychological and physical excess was channeled into his music, summarized her virtue with these lines:

You taught me precious secrets
Of the truth, withholding nothing.
You came out in front
And I was hiding.

And then offers this gift of insight to those that have not been so blessed:

I love you in a place
Where there’s no space or time.
I love you for my life
because you’re a friend of mine.

Genesis declares that a man and woman become “one flesh”, but the truth is far deeper than that.

For most of us, the lure of sex is the slippery entrance to these mysteries. Particularly in our early adulthood, when embroiled with our peers in the undifferentiated spray of lusts that makes it almost impossible to sleep, we often surrender to temptation. While those early experiences are exhilarating, they end results are often not pretty. The young wife of the angry peer in graduate school came down with uterine cancer; the female lawyer paid for the extortion made possible by the easy access of college couplings with hands crabbed by the hatred of wives; the pedophile who offered his services in breaking the link between mother and son – all are reflections of the failure to graduate from the power and thrill of disorganized coupling into management of the garden of the soul.

It is the latter that Charles celebrates in the second stanza above. Women feel things, men change them. The partnership that flowers when we recognize that duality is incredibly powerful. Love takes up camp in a place outside of space and time, but from which every moment can be touched.

Once it is established, that kind of binding is almost impossible to break – not even death sunders it.

People with past life experiences relate that they recognize their lovers and family. As Paul Simon put it in “Senorita with a Necklace of Tears”:

I was born before my father
And my children before me
And we are born and born again
Like the waves of the sea

So what happens when a couple, from that place outside of time, looks into the future and sees a planet with too many people? Are they to surrender the work they each do on the other’s souls? Work that can only be done when incorporated?

I went to school in Berkeley, and spent a fair amount of time with gay and lesbian couples. I almost always saw a pairing of masculine and feminine spirits. The physical inconvenience was a sacrifice that they had made.

They love each other. Get over it, people.